Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Simchas Torah Challenges – "Getting Into" the Dancing

With some encouragement from A Simple Jew, I wanted to put an issue I’m grappling with out there on the table. To state it plainly, I currently find it difficult to ever “get into” the dancing in almost any venue. Aside from two specific events per year, I generally struggle with a feeling of coldness and apathy when it comes to various situations that relate to rikudim. Whether it’s a Chasuna, or dancing on simchas Torah, I generally have a general lack of enthusiasm. When it comes to weddings, unless I am very close to a Chossan, I face this problem.

On the first night of Shmini Atzeres, I went out of my way to daven at a Shul where they do not do Chassidishe hakafos on the first night of Shmini Atzeres. That way, I would only “have” to dance on Simchas Torah its self. When my children were there, I certainly made a great effort to have some great dancing during that time, and the rest of the time, I participated as well, but not with a lot of feeling.

Something that I found very helpful was the fact that the rabbi of my Shul gave us a nice pep talk before the dancing the at night with two sets of kavanos regarding what the avoda of the dancing is about and what it accomplishes. You can read that advice HERE. It was a huge chizuk to know what to think about and I was thankful to have a rabbi who'll lead us along what we need to be doing and thinking about during a mitzva. Although even knowing what great things are hanging in the balance during the dancing, I still had that coldness that is so difficult to shake off during the dancing.

When it comes to intellectual things, even emotionally connected things, like Torah, Chassidus, Gemara, etc. I have no problem getting into it most of the time. The problem arises when I try to connect my intellectual knowledge with my emotions. That’s a great challenge for me and it is something I’m working on in general with the derech avoda of the Bilvavi seforim. It all comes back to one of the messages in my current favorite pasuk from Devarim 4:39, “וְיָדַעְתָּ הַיּוֹם, וַהֲשֵׁבֹתָ אֶל-לְבָבֶךָ, כִּי יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים, בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל וְעַל-הָאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת: אֵין, עוֹד..” It’s the old difficulty of connecting the וְיָדַעְתָּ הַיּוֹם to the וַהֲשֵׁבֹתָ אֶל-לְבָבֶךָ.

Anyone else facing this? How have you handled it or how would you like to handle it?

-Dixie Yid

(Video is a great one of the Melitzer Rebbe having no problems "getting into" the dancing with his then-new son in law, at a Sheva Brachos in Ashdod.)


yitz said...

i find for myself that the body and mind aren't always in synch, sometimes if i'm really excited to dance, then my body is into it also.. but when i feel like i should dance, but can't really convince myself even mentally, then it takes a long time for my body to get into it.. as long as my body isn't into it, i won't really dance, since dancing kind of involves (at least for me) my body telling me what to do--as opposed to my mind running the show. The way i work up the momentum and the energy and the courage to start dancing is by standing near the dancing first.. then clapping in time with the music, then perhaps starting to move my feet a little, and then finally jumping into the throng when i feel my body start moving to the music..

(this is of course in the case of music)

once i'm dancing i really love dancing and whatever may be the kavanah of everyone else around me, i'm trying to dance for HaShem, trying to connect the littlest bit to David haMelech. (which for better or worse means i'm not trying to follow whatever kind of fancy stepping is going on around me--as long as i keep to the beat)

[btw you've inspired me to post on the topic, hopefully something that will be insightful iy"h]

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


Thanks for your personal and detailed thoughts and advice. You're right. One way I can and sometimes do handle it is by just making myself dance physically, and then letting my emotions be drawn after my body. At differnt times it works to varying extents.

-Dixie Yid

Chaim B. said...

Is being a Litvak such a problem? : ) I share the same "disease", so at best I can offer sympathy, but no solution. Different people are "turned on" by different things. I know that when I learn a difficult sugya and see a good sevara I find it very exciting and uplifting, but watching people dance around in a circle doesn't do much for my neshoma (I recall reading stories of R' Baruch Ber and other gedolim breaking into a rikud when they came upon good sevaros). For some people dancing is easy but they get nothing out of a blatt gemara. I think we have to work at avodas Hashem within the given framework of our individual nesohomas and talents, not try to completely overhaul who we are.

Anonymous said...

You're both saying over the Mesilas Yesharim-Chitzoniyus meorer pnimiyus

Another way I do it is to concentrate on the words of the song and use as a mussar seder- repeating the same words over and over. . . The dancing then is used to express the joy I try to feel in the words-Not crazy dancing or dancing for the pleasure entertainment of others (which at times has value like at a wedding)-just simple swaying, slight jumping

But I do think the hakafos we do generally is way overdone and takes too much time-We aren't lishmah enough that shul should end at 3:30PM I'd say 5 minutes per hakafa or maximum 10, and with saying the yehi ratzons in between about what each hakafah does instead of a 2-3 hour dance-athon (just like we take the 7 hakafos themselves seriously on Hoshanah Rabbah, we should on Simchas Torah)

Dixie, I really like your blog-very up my alley- esp. the Bilvavi info and posts. I found it searching for Bilvavi I think a few weeks ago, and now I check regularly. Keep it coming!

Why are you anonymous? What you write here is beautiful-no controversy- but since you are anon., I'll remain anon.

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


Thank you for what you said. I should consider the possibility that this is just an expression of the fact that different people's neshamos connect to different things. Though with what my rabbi said about the different things that one accomplishes during the dancing, I feel that if I'm not really into it, then I won't accomplish those very important things.


Thank you so much for your nice words.

I am anonymous because I can bit a tad more frank than I would if everyone knew who I was. That is especially true in a post like this where I am writing about something that I do not really feel comfortable making public. I do feel a sense of shame at my coldness, so if I were totally public, I'm not sure I would be able to write a post like this. You can see what I wrote about my feelings on the topic of anonymity in my guest posting at ASJ here:

I'm not sure what all of his concerns are, but my rebbe has also advised me to remain anonymous at this point, so I'm following his guidance.

Do you know me from "real life"?

-Dixie Yid

Anonymous said...

As blue blood Litvack I have exerienced the same problem. The issue goes beyond dancing which is a symptom, I think, not the problem. The answer comes from the general loosening, flexibility and openess to postive experiences that is such an important part of being chassidically inclined.
I would recommend a brief meditation as you prepare to enter dancing. Focus on the music and shut other things out. Let the meter and rhythm act upon your body and regulate your breathing in sync. Once you learn to do this, I think, you will find it possible to return to it during dancing as well and achieve hislahavus.

A Simple Jew said...

Avakesh: I won't hold being a Litvak against you. You still post like a chassid!

Anonymous said...

I agree with what Chaim wrote, as well as the poster following him.

It's fine to be a Litvak. You should be open to the Litvishe derech in avodas Hashem, and not instinctively reject it in a knee-jerk fashion.

Chassidim stress dancing more than Litvaks, but you are not obligated to take the Hassidic line always, you are not a descendant of them.

There should be learning on simchas Torah too, let us not forget to get involved with what we are celebrating. Dancing without learning is not what it's about.

I am tired of Litvaks beating their breasts about not being the same as Chassidim. Guys, have some Litvish pride, we have our own derech and spirituality, we don't have to copy others. Don't believe the Hassidic propaganda that Litvaks are a bunch of cold unspiritual people. It's not an accurate depiction of our way of avodas Hashem. We may be more low-key and quieter, but remember the old saying, 'still waters run deep'.

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


Thanks for what you're saying. I don't take the line that there's a one-size-fits-all Yiddishkeit. Different things are right for different people, depending on their shoresh neshama. And I woulnd not say that the derech Hachasidus, or even necessarily a healthy dollop of Chassidus is right or necessary for everyone. There are many for whom the Litvish approach is what, almost exclusively gives chiyus to their avodas Hashem. Agreed.

I'm not so sure I'd charactarize a different opinion from mine as "Chassidic propaganda" though...

Be well!

-Dixie Yid

Anonymous said...

Just for the record. as a chosid I can say not all chassidim find it easy to dance either. there are also many who while Torah observantrarely open a sefer but when it comes to Simchas Torah they wil dance up a storm however they will also dance alot for any other occasion secular or religious. its in the personality

A Talmid said...

I don’t understand what dancing on Simchas Torah has to do with being a Litvak, Chosid or Sephardi. Simchas Torah is for all Jews. If you go into the big Litvish Yeshivas they dance up a storm and many go on for hours. Some Litvish Yeshivas even eat first so they can have hakofos going on for a long time. As far as not being able to dance, I agree it’s a personality issue and has nothing to do with chosid or litvak, as I stated, the Litvish Yeshivas dance up a storm (also by their Simchas Beis Hashoeivas)

The Noam Elimelech in Tzetel Koton# 16 says that if on is shy, from a shyness which is from the bad portion, he should train himself for 40 days to pray in a loud voice, with all his strength, etc…My understanding is that this means someone who is shy when it comes to spiritual things should try to break this trait; this would include dancing on Simchas Torah.

As far as the one who said each hakofos should take 5 minutes like Hoshan Rabbah. Actually, by many of the Admorim hakofos and the na’anuim on Hoshana Rabba do take hour.

As far as us not being lishma about dancing, the Ropshitzer said he was only once bested by someone: He saw an unlearned man dancing with gusto on Simchas Torah and said to him, “what are you dancing about; when was the llast time you learned Torah”? Answered the man, “If my brother makes a simcha, I shouldn’t dance”?

Anonymous said...

What does the word hakofoh mean ? It means going around the bimah once. Not twenty, thirty, eighty or one hundred times. Those would be called 20, 30, 80 or 100 hakofos.

Anonymous said...

There was a Chasidishe Rebbe (Maybe the Radziner, I am not sure, it's brought down in the sefer Toldos Chag Simchas Torah) who said something like the following

Am haaratzim are misamayach on simchas Torah because they finish the Torah then. Talmidei chachomim are happy on Shavuos because the Torah was given then.

Anonymous said...

What are you reform or progressive? We (including great rabbonim) have always been joyous on Simchas Torah. And on Shavuos

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Anon 6:01 and 6:05:

(Assuming you're the same person) I think you should take a lesson from what A Talmid wrote above. Dancing on Simchas Torah is something everyone does, as you can see from the awesome dancing that exists in Litvish yeshivos, just as much as it exists in Chassidishe places.

Of course it's not good if someone is only happy because he's "gotten the Torah behind him." But are you actually calling rikudim on Simchas Torah a simcha in *stopping* learning Torah for the year?! Please! Dancing on Simchas Torah has been and continues to be a great avoda on many levels for Tzaddikim and regular people for a very long time. For two of the things we are accomplishing during the dancing, read my post here:

Perhaps you are like me that naturally, you would prefer less dancing and so you try to rationalize that there nothing to be accomplished by making a great avoda out of the dancing. However, I think that instead of trying to negate the importance of this holy Jewish minhag, it would be better to work on ways that you can conform your nature to the avoda of that day. Either that or just accept your nature for what it is and be happy that other Jews are able to engage in that avoda.

Hashem should bless you to see the beauty and power in holy Jewish minhagim.

-Dixie Yid

Anonymous said...

10 minutes per hakafa is more than enough to accomplish all of what is written above. No reason to 'ruin' a family seudah and Yom Tov day to have a dance-athon for hours. How much patience and energy can kids and wives, and for that matter, most men have? This is why hashkamah on Simchas Torah is more and more popular. If only we'd have more efficient minyanim on Simchas Torah it's be a big service to Klal Yisrael.

Neil Harris said...

Great post. You wrote, "The problem arises when I try to connect my intellectual knowledge with my emotions."

At times, thinking can get in the way.

We often overthink things way too much. "Should I dance now, or should I learn during hakafos?"
"Will dancing be better/shorter/better air-conditioned at shul a or shul b?"

I have the same problem at times. The bridge b/t intellectual knowledge and our emotions is probably Golus related. While I don't often voice this view (keep in mind that no one owns the copyright on the word "Moshiach") without Moshiach and the Beis Hamikdash we are living sort of a hollow life. We go through the motions, but in general I think there is a 'feeling' that we are all missing. Maybe you are just "plugged in" more than most and your reality of living in Golus is manifested by your lack interest in dancing.

I can tell that your Rebbes words gave you some food for thought. It could be that your guf really doesn't want to dance. And that's alright. If Hashem really wants you to dance, you end up dancing one way or another. Your kinderlach will probably be very into dancing and you'll have no choice but to put on a happy face and join them. It's sort of how things end up. Case in point: I have no interest in sports what so ever (except for skateboarding). My Uberson is totally into all things sports. I read up and follow just enought to understand what he tells me and let him know that I'm interested in what he's interested in.

A Talmid said...

The Mishna Brura (569:11) says that even “zekeinim” dance on Simchas Torah and that the Gra would dance in from of the Sefer Torah with all his strength. In the Shaarei Zion, the Chofetz Chaim writes that one shouldn’t say that it’s below his honor to dance for the Torah because that was the mistake of Michal, when Dovid Hamelech was dancing excessively, and she told him it wasn’t fitting for him to do that.

The Yesod Veshoresh Ha’avodah (who was a Litvak) says: “u’kvar huvah b’sforim godel malas ho’adam hamarbeh b’chol minei smochos lifnei Hasefer Torah shebozeh me’orer gam kein l’malah be’olomos ho’elyonim hakedoshim simcha vechedvah atzumah, v’chol hazohir b’simcha shel Torah bayom hazeh – BOTUACH SHELO YIFSOK TORAH MI'ZARO”.

Remember the actual name of the Yom Tov is “Simchas” Torah. After all is said and done if you really can’t be joyous, speak to a qualified Rov as to what you should do. As for spending time with family, I know most wives enjoy watching the dancing in shul and the children, of course love it.

Neil Harris said...

Three yeasr ago, while staying in Lawrence, NY I was introduced to a a talmud of the Chofetz Chaim. I asked him what Simchas Torah was like in Radin? He told me that there was very little dancing and the bochrium learned after hakafos.

So you aren't into dancing? So what!

Anonymous said...

Wives and kids may love it for about a half-hour, I'll even give you an hour. 95% of men dance for a total of a half-hour, maybe 40 minutes, the rest of the time they shmues or learn. Let's face reality, ten minutes per hakafa should be the norm-that's not taking anything away from all the holy kavanos and avodah there is here. Dancing for 70 minutes an Simchas Torah would still be a tremendous thing. But like all the baalei mussar and chasidus say, tafasta merubah LO tafasta-that's for sure the case in our very inefficient and time-torturous Simchas Torah.

(Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky had a very short Pesach seder because he took into account the family and esp. the wife who worked very hard to make the food which goes unappreciated in a mad dash to eat the afikoman before chatzos. He learned and fulfilled all the inyanim and kavanos after the Seder. Rav Yisrael Salanter had a very short Shabbos meal so that the cook and waitress could go home early, etc., etc.)

Anonymous said...

Another very important point is that fact that since most men, boys, only dance for maybe a 1/2 hour of the 3 hour dance-a-thon, for many, the rest of the time is batala, which then leads to all the alcohol consumption and disgusting drunknenness that is so prevalent on Simchas Torah.

A proper schedule on Simchas Torah would be:

8:30AM begin shacharis
9:30AM hakafos
10-45AM begin aliyos laining
12PM kol naarim and chasanim
12:45-begin musaf

This accomplishes the great avodah of Simchas Torah l'mehadrin without any of the pitfalls.

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Anon 8:41, Anon 8:55 and Anon 10:54,

I definitely hear what y'all are saying, that perhaps it is possible to do all that one should accomplish during the dancing without all of the inconveniences and other pitfalls. And I'm totally sympathetic to these ideas because of my nature as well.

However, I can't help but think of another question on all of that: Are Tony and Billy Ha'eino-yehudim out there agonizing about whether their "Rush" or "Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band" concerts are really too long, or whether or not the sacrifices they make for their attendance at those concerts are really worth the time. I don't think they make such cheshbonos hanefesh before they engage in shtusim v'havolim.

Why is that when it comes to giving in to the Yetzer Hara, we're content to "just do it." But when it comes to whether or not, or how much avodas Hashem to do, we engage in klering and making chakiros about how much avoda is worth doing, or whether or not the difficulties are too much.

I'm not trying to come out all on one extreme, practically speaking, but the whole feeling behind the conversation strange when looked at in the context of how eino-yehudim approach their own dancing experiences.

-Dixie Yid

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, the comparison to a rock concert does not work. This is not what is happening on Simchas Torah. You are correct that pple are not bored at a concert but they're not bored at a Shwekey concert either. They paid to see the performer. I think that pple, chasisdim, are not be bored if they watched their rebbe dance on Simchas Torah for a long time (and he 'mixes up his various 'moves', read-kavanos to inspire us'. . .
The point is that the way we engage in Simchas Torah is not an avodah that we are missing, or not 'getting into'. We are 'pretending' that pple dance for hours and spend so much time and avodah on hakafos when that's not the madreiga we are on in Klal Yisrael. (Even the video link you have here of the Rebbe dancing at a sheva brachos-how long do you think he danced for? 5 minutes?) So, we shouldn't berate ourselves for not getting into it enough-We should schedule a normal amount that pple can handle and realize how special that is.

yitz said...

with all due respect and love,
the comments on this post are a result of the ashkenazic tendency to insist on the cookie-cutter nature of judaism.

why does there have to be ANY agreed upon standard for hakafot? Fulfilling the actual minhag as stated above is seven turns around the bimah, dancing and singing with the Torah.

There's nothing wrong with how each and every beit knesset decides to perform this minhag... if people want more dancing and their shul doesn't dance enough, make a separate minyan. If people want less dancing and their shul dances too much, make a separate minyan. What's the problem????

If people are genuinely worried about Al Tifrosh Min HaTzibur then speak to a Rav or move to a Tzibur that's more in line with your own minhagim..

Otherwise, why are you complaining about what it is within your own power to change?

arguing about how things should be instead of making of them what they could be is pardon the expression, so ashkenazi..

Anonymous said...

You suggest to make a sep. minyan. . . vast majority of rabbis and shuls do not allow that unless you want to start a machlokes my observations and suggestions apply to 95% of people

no reason to set up a program of long hakafos if it is not benefitting anyone and possibly hurting (alcohol, batala, etc. etc.)